BISHOP Martin Tetsuo Hiraga of Sendai, one of the regions most devastated by the earthquake and resultant tsunami in Japan, has said “hope is the gift that Christians can make to the country at this time of suffering”.
The bishop also told Catholic newsagency Fides that Japanese bishops were to have an emergency meeting in Sendai last Wednesday to decide strategies for dealing with the catastrophe.
Sendai was the nearest big city to the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake which struck about 130km off Japan’s coast north of Tokyo on March 10.
Tsunami waves as high as 10m tore through coastal villages and cities and officials feared more than 10,000 people have lost their lives.
Bishop Hiraga said the situation in his diocese was very difficult.
“We are not yet able to comprehend the enormity of the disaster,” he said.
“The news is fragmented.
“We still do not know how many people have died, how many have been displaced and how many are missing.”
Sendai diocese has a population of 10,944 baptised, representing 0.15 per cent of the population (more than 7.2 million) in the territory.
Last Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his closeness to the people of Japan “who are dealing with the effects of these calamities with dignity and courage”.
“I encourage those who with praiseworthy readiness are preparing to bring help,” he said.
“We remain united in prayer. The Lord is near.”
Catholic News Service reported Caritas Japan president Bishop Isao Kikuchi of Niigata said: “We have received so many emails from all continents, filled with words of compassion and prayer.
“We are very grateful for this solidarity.
“We believe that aid activity is needed, but prayer is also important in such a situation.”
In a statement, Caritas Japan said it would concentrate its efforts on meeting the needs of people with no access to public services and on the rehabilitation phase of recovery.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Confer-ence (ACBC) has urged prayer and offered practical support to the victims of the largest earthquake to hit Japan in 140 years, the conference said.
ACBC president Archbishop Phillip Wilson said “many regions of the world are experiencing phenomenal impact from various environmental disasters”.
“I truly pray the Lord’s blessing on all of those affected,” he said.
“We will continue to hold up in prayer at this time all of the people who have perished in this tragedy, and pledge our ongoing prayerful support in the relief effort.”
Caritas Australia’s chief executive officer Jack de Groot said “our prayers and solidarity are with our colleagues at Caritas Japan, and with all those who have been affected”.
“We have already witnessed the destructive power of the tsunami on our television screens, but we are yet to understand the full extent of the destruction and the human cost of this disaster,” he said.
“We will work closely with our Caritas partners to ensure those communities marginalised by this tsunami have an opportunity to recover and rebuild.
“As we continue to monitor the situation in Japan, … we ask Australians to join us in prayer for the lives lost, and those that may be saved.”
Catholic Mission national director Martin Teulan also asked all Australians to join the international Catholic Mission prayer campaign for the people of Japan.
“All over the world Catholics are joining together to show their solidarity with their fellow Catholics and indeed with all the people of that devastated region,” he said.
“We should never underestimate how important the prayers of people around the world are for those whose lives have been devastated by a natural disaster.
“We always receive so many messages of thanks from those for whom we have prayed.
“Through these prayers, people feel the solidarity of the whole of the Catholic Church with them in their moment of despair, and most importantly feel the presence of God supporting them and holding them at this time of incredible distress and fear.”
To send a prayer to the people of Japan, email email@example.com
Prayers will be passed on through Catholic Mission in Japan.
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